Being enlightened by Go
28/02/2016 Christ Church Stannington Psalm 27 Enlightened by God's Love
The Gospel is taken from John 8:12-20 Jesus the Light of the World
12 Jesus spoke to the Pharisees again. “I am the light of the world,” he said. “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.”
13 The Pharisees said to him, “Now you are testifying on your own behalf; what you say proves nothing.”
14 “No,” Jesus answered, “even though I do testify on my own behalf, what I say is true, because I know where I came from and where I am going. You do not know where I came from or where I am going. 15 You make judgments in a purely human way; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I were to do so, my judgment would be true, because I am not alone in this; the Father who sent me is with me. 17 It is written in your Law that when two witnesses agree, what they say is true. 18 I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me also testifies on my behalf.”
19 “Where is your father?” they asked him.
“You know neither me nor my Father,” Jesus answered. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
20 Jesus said all this as he taught in the Temple, in the room where the offering boxes were placed. And no one arrested him, because his hour had not come.
This is the Gospel
Light of the World; Help us to know how much we are loved by you and by the Father through your protection from the fears of darkness. May we look for your face to guide us into your ways of love. Amen
One evening when I was little, my brother and I were playing when, just for the fun of it, he got up ran out of the room switching off the light as he went and held the door closed. I was terrified, the room was completely dark and I was imprisoned and alone. I remember screaming and struggling against the door handle and my brother teasing and laughing on the other side. And then I thought “hang on next to the door is the light switch”, stretching up onto my tiptoes I felt my way up the wall towards it. Suddenly the room was filled with light, I was safe, I let go of the door and went off to play. It wasn’t long before my brother realised the game was over and came back in, and his face was a picture of emotions, a bit ‘what took you so long’, a bit sheepish, because I had won that particular battle, and a bit of pride in his little sister was growing up. But sibling rivalry aside, I will never forget that moment of relief when the light came back on, and the feeling of foolishness of not thinking about it sooner, there had been no need to be afraid.
In our Western world it is easy to take electric light for granted, and we have little experience of complete darkness. We have street lights, a torch on our phones, so much light pollution we can hardly see the stars at night. But for the ancient people darkness was a very real fear. Darkness represented all the fears of the night, fears of a traveller who might get lost, fear of attack from enemies or wild animals, as well as the fears of evil and chaos. So for the Jews, darkness became a symbol for fear. And it is out of this place of fear and chaos that at the beginning of creation God makes light to be a guide representing God’s presence and wisdom right the way through Scripture until we reach Revelation, where there is a City which has no need of any additional light because there is no fear, there is nothing but light, and that light is the Lamb. When we talk about light in the Bible we are talking about God, and more specifically we are talking about Jesus in his role of Messiah, our Saviour and our guide. If you read Isaiah 9:2 you can see how the coming of the Messiah is seen as a great light and John picks up the theme in the beginning of his gospel when he says “the light shines in the darkness”. So when Jesus stands up in the temple courts and declares “I am the Light of the World” he is publically making the claim that he is the Messiah. If we look at the setting, in chapter 7 we see this is the last day of the feast of shelters or tabernacles, this was a double festival which celebrated both the end of the harvest and the Exodus. Within it there were various occasions which re-enacted events form Exodus, such as gathering water to represent Moses bringing water out of the rock as the Israelites journey through the desert. During this event Jesus has already caused a stir by standing up and promising to give living water to those who were thirsty. As they lit the huge ceremonial lamps to remember the pillar of fire that had guided the Israelites through their wanderings in the desert, Jesus now says “I am the Light of the World”.
Jesus is teaching into the evening sitting in the Women’s Court, where both women and men, Gentiles and Jews can hear him and he says “I am the Light of the World, If you follow me you won’t have to walk in darkness because you will have the light that leads to life”. What is he getting at? There are times when we need a clear light so we can make a sound judgement about something, there are other times when we look for a light so we can see where we are going, and there are times when we might reach for a light because we just are afraid of the dark. Verse 15 makes it clear that Jesus has the authority and the skill to make judgements, and if the Pharisees continue to push him, his light will show up their faults in that they don’t recognise who God is when they see him. But Jesus says, this isn’t what he wants to do. Judgement is not his prime aim. Instead Jesus wants to use His light to guide us on the way we should go and to drive away fear. When we look to Jesus we see an example of how to live our lives and when we look into his face we will find there is nothing to fear because all that is there is loving grace and this perfect love drives out fear. This is the love which will guide us, through grace.
So with Jesus to guide us why would we ever be afraid? With his light filling our lives doesn’t that drive out all the darkness? According to Psalm 27 no. We are human and we are full of weaknesses. So often I find myself feeling just like Psalm 27. First of all the Psalm begins with total confidence and trust in the LORD as the Psalmist experiences God’s love as light piercing through the darkness of fear, there as a constant salvation, a fortress. It doesn’t matter what is thrown in their way God’s love is shining, and they are confident. And then; it fumbles into anxious prayer for help. Don’t leave me, don’t reject me, don’t turn your back on me. Sometimes we have a Psalm of complete trust and confidence like the 23rd Psalm that we will look at next week, or a Psalm that expresses despair, like Psalm 22, but then remembers that God is God and all will resolve. But Psalm 27 is for those faltering moments when we know God is there guiding us, but we are still afraid, the battle rages on inside us. Psalm 27 is there to help us pray through those times so we can wait for His glorious light to shine through and be our guide.
So what type of things might we fear? People have many different fears and phobias’ and this psalm mentions several different ones. There are actual battles, there is fear of false accusations, there is fear of what people might say. When we read this psalm we can substitute in our fears. I don’t have to face actual battles in my daily life, and I haven’t often been falsely accused of doing anything, or if I have I feel confident I can stand up for myself. But I do have a very real fear of heights and falling, which is tricky if you like being out and about in the mountains. So what better thing could I do to prepare for this sermon than put myself in that position of fear and go skiing. Chris and my approach to skiing give you a perfect example of confidence and fear. Chris can stand at the top of the slope, look down it and think right I’m going down there, there and there, there’s a run out ahead so I can really go fast and enjoy it. I look at the top of the same slope and feel sick, the little hill I have happily been brought up on the tow has turned into a precipitous slope and I feel I am about to die. The only thing that will give me any confidence is to look into the face of someone I trust, either Chris or my instructor Thomas. Someone I know has my best interest at heart. The one person who in amongst all these other people confidently skiing around me who understands I need a safe route, and if I am afraid will hold out their hand to steady me. I need a face of someone who loves me to hold onto.
In Psalm 27 God is given his own personal name. It is written as LORD in capitals because the Jews felt God’s own name was too holy to be spoken aloud. I wonder when you think of or talk to Jesus, what do you call him? It is right sometimes, to call him Lord or God, because he is. It is right to call him Christ because he is our Saviour or our Messiah. But we can also call him by his personal name, Jesus, because he is our personal friend and brother, who has our best interest in his heart. When we call someone by their name they will turn and look at us, when I use Jesus’ name I can see his face. So when we read Psalm 27 we can replace LORD with Jesus. When I stood alone at the top of a Ski slope I could remember that Jesus was my light and my salvation, why should I be afraid. Then I could take a moment to breathe look down the slope and decide which route down the piste would be best for me and then enjoy going downhill.
What does this look like. Well much as I might like to put a couple of still photographs up on the screen, skiing is a very dynamic way of throwing yourself dangerously downhill wearing a helmet. The go-pro won. So what we actually have is a very amateur film set to Psalm 27. As we enjoy it, and you are allowed to enjoy it in whatever way you find appropriate, you will see the confident and the fearful approach both of which get to the bottom of the slope largely in one piece. It doesn’t matter which way you go down the hill, the point is to find the way that is safe for you and everyone else and enjoy it. So I like snow ploughs. So let’s enjoy Ian White’s version of Psalm 27 set to skiing in the Black Forest.
2 Corinthians 4:6 says “For God , who said ‘ Let there be light in the darkness has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ”. When we have Jesus’s light in our hearts we reflect it to others. It doesn’t matter what we think we are, when we have Jesus’ light it will leak out. You have seen my skiing abilities, and yes I may have made sure that those really were the least confident moments to make my point, but I am no great skier. But when I was coming down the nursery slope on one last confidence boost before venturing onto the real slopes I came past someone from the real beginners group. She had set out on her own for the first time and was stuck on a part of the slope where I now felt confident. Just by standing in the right place I was able to be a guide for her marking where to make her turns, looking into her face and giving her a smile at the right time to boost her moral. And she did it. What I found quiet humbling was that evening when she thanked me again. She had spent the rest of the afternoon practicing, imagining me standing there encouraging her marking where to turn, and I wondered how, when I am such a rubbish skier, could that have happened. In actual fact it wasn’t the quality of my skiing that helped her, it was just being there.
The same is true in our Christian lives, we don’t have to feel we are an expert Christian to let God’s light shine, all we need to do is be there and God’s light will reflect off us whether we know it or not. As Jesus said, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Our light will shine one way or another. When we pray “The Lord is my Light and my salvation, Whom shall I fear?” there may be a battle inside us there may be a moral struggle, but when we reach up and look into the face of Jesus and his grace floods our lives with his love to guide us we will reflect his light to the world.